PC MLAs vote for Bill 45, but law limiting free speech is ripe for a constitutional challenge

Despite a united front from opposition parties, days of large protests by public sector unions, and calls by constitutional experts that the law would be ripe for a Supreme Court challenge, 33 of Premier Alison Redford‘s Progressive Conservative MLAs voted tonight in favour of passing Bill 45: Public Sector Services Continuation Act into law. Eight opposition MLAs were present in the Assembly to vote against the bill’s passage in third reading.

As I wrote earlier this week, under sections 4(4) and 18(d) of Bill 45, any “person” who suggests that public sector employees strike or threaten to strike could be fined $500 and prosecuted within one year. The bill vaguely defines a “person” as someone who is not a government employee or trade union official, meaning that the $500 fine and prosecution could arguably apply to newspaper reporters, columnists, bloggers, or just ordinary Albertans who publicly suggest that unionized government employees participate in an illegal strike or consider taking illegal strike action.

The addition of the term”strike threat,” a new concept introduced in this bill, is both vague and open to interpretation and it is not unimaginable that the government could use the clause to punish public sector unions in the event of conflict or disagreement.

Once Bill 45 receives Royal Assent from Lieutenant Governor Donald Ethell, it will become law in Alberta. But, as one constitutional law expert told the National Post, this law is “ripe for challenge” to the Supreme Court of Canada. Athabasca University professor Bob Barnetson suggests that because free speech is protected by Section 2 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, it is unlikely that these sections Bill 45 would survive a challenge to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Albertans can now expect that the Redford Government will be forced to spend significant public dollars defending this unjust and irresponsible law in the courts.

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